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Vol. 80/No. 32      August 29, 2016

(lead article)

Socialist Workers Party: ‘Defend voting rights!’

Campaigning for working-class voice in Tennessee

Militant/Carole Lesnick
Hair stylist Renee Perron, left, talks with Socialist Workers Party campaigner Ellen Brickley in Nashville. “I’m happy to hear we have an alternative,” Perron said. SWP is campaigning across Tennessee, one of states where officials are putting up obstacles to workers voting.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — “People are waking up to the reality that the two-party system in the U.S. is really a one-party system,” Samuel Smiley told Lisa Potash when she knocked on his door here to introduce the Socialist Workers Party, the working-class party taking on the capitalist bosses’ Democrats and Republicans.

“We need our own party to mobilize workers to fight against the brutalizing effects on our class of the deepening crisis of the capitalist system, to organize solidarity with all those who fight back, and to forge a mass movement strong enough to overturn the bosses’ rule,” Potash said. “That’s why we’re campaigning in Tennessee and all across the country and why we’re working to put the Socialist Workers Party’s presidential ticket of Alyson Kennedy and Osborne Hart on the ballot here.

“Our class has the power and potential to change history,” Potash said. “Look at the victory over Jim Crow segregation won by the mighty working-class fight for Black rights and the sit-down strikes and labor battles that led to the building of the industrial unions.”

Smiley, a 23-year-old musician who is African-American, had joined the discussion Potash began with his two roommates, who are also seeking to break into the music business in Nashville, the home of the Grand Old Opry.

The three were among 27 workers who got a copy of Are They Rich Because They’re Smart? by SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes, 18 who got subscriptions to the Militant and 353 who signed to put Kennedy and Hart on the Tennessee ballot over the last four days.

On Aug. 8 the party filed 569 signatures, more than twice the required number. But state officials told Daniel Horwitz, the party’s attorney, that only 32 percent were valid and the SWP needed 95 more “good” signatures.

So party supporters from Atlanta, New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and elsewhere joined people in Tennessee to do just that and more, to campaign, win more support and build the party here.

Tennessee is one of a number states, especially in the South, where governments have campaigned to limit voting rights for working people, disproportionately affecting those who are Black. A 2011 law requires anyone who wants to register or vote to have one of a handful of “acceptable” government-issued photo IDs.

In addition, the ballot is only available in English and, while you are permitted to have an interpreter, you are legally forbidden to get one from your trade union.

Over the past few months, legal challenges have overturned or weakened such restrictions in North Carolina, Texas and other states. Similar challenges were unsuccessful in Tennessee in both 2013 and 2015.

For the same reasons, SWP lawyer Horwitz said, the government here conducts aggressive purges of the voter registrations rolls, denying thousands the right to vote. That is a major reason why so many workers’ signatures weren’t counted on SWP petitions.

The fight for the right to vote has a long history — to end property requirements after the Revolutionary War; to extend the franchise to Blacks after the Civil War and again as part of the fight against Jim Crow; to win women’s suffrage and the vote for 18-year-olds.

“We find widespread disgust with the capitalist candidates among workers here and real interest in the SWP,” said John Benson, party organizer in Atlanta and director of campaigning here.

“We’ve campaigned among auto workers who would like to have a union at Nissan and other plants, rubber workers at Bridgestone/Firestone and workers in smaller towns devastated by shut-down coal mines and factories,” he said.

“We find solidarity with Anna Yocca, a 31-year-old woman from Murfreesboro who was indicted on attempted murder charges for attempting a self-induced abortion,” Benson said. “The anti-abortion laws are harsh here. Sixty-three percent of women in the state live in counties without a doctor that provides abortion services. The charges against Yocca were lowered to aggravated assault in March, but she is still in county jail because she couldn’t meet the outrageous $200,000 bail.”

The party will file the additional signatures by the Aug. 18 deadline.

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